It will be good at Royal Troon tomorrow, because once the first round of The Open begins—with local favourite Colin Montgomerie getting the championship underway with the larks at 6:35—the focus will be on the third major of the year, rather than on who is not playing in the Olympics in September.
The Olympic issue has dominated the preview days at Royal Troon this week. With apparently heavy heart, Jordan Spieth stated, “it was the hardest decision of his life” not to represent the United States in Rio, while Rory McIlroy could hardly have cared less: “I don’t think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for [Jordan],” admitted the Irishman.
McIlroy stoked things up by adding that while he would watch the Olympics on TV, he will look out for “the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters”. For Olympic golf that was a sideswipe of some force and one that McIlroy may come to regret. He has since been roundly criticized from senior figures from a variety of sports.
So, 20 of the world’s leading golfing men have withdrawn from the Olympics, yet a field of 156 are set for the 145th Open here at Royal Troon.
The weather conditions have been changeable this week and generally pretty wet recently, so what was beginning to turn into the kind of hard and fast, slightly browned layout for which organizers the R&A always hope, has in fact become a very green, soft and receptive golf course. Unless the winds pick up the scores here could go low, and a soft course could play into the hands of the longer hitters, or to be exact, into the hands of The Open’s pre-tournament favorite Dustin Johnson.
South Carolina’s Johnson has won his last two starts—the U.S. Open at Oakmont and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC, Ohio—and beyond that he has finished in the top-five in seven of his last 10 starts and he did not finish outside the top 30 in the other three. No wonder the 32-year-old is the man to beat.
“I felt like I’ve been playing well all year,” Johnson said today, “so for it to finally pay-off and get my first major at the U.S. Open and go out and win again at the WGC was obviously big, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game.”
So he should. “I go into every tournament liking my chances,” he said.
Day is the other obvious contender. He finished in a tie for fourth last year at St Andrews, one shot out of the three-way play-off, and then went on to win his first career major title at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He has the game and the belief to win this week.
McIlroy, on the other hand, missed the cut at Oakmont and has shown little indication he is about to win his second Open title, while Spieth is also searching for something to take his game back to the imperious form he showed in 2015 when he won the Masters and U.S. Open.
Consider this: if Johnson wins and Jason Day finishes worse than in 10th place alone, Johnson will become the new world number one.